Declaring children’s TV programming regulations to be among the many “outdated, unnecessary, or unduly burdensome” ones on the books, the Federal Communications Commission today began the process of a dramatic overhaul.
The Republican-led body, which has chipped away at rule after rule in recent months, to the alarm of some critics both inside and outside Washington, laid out proposed updates to the kids TV rules during its monthly open meeting. The so-called “kid vid” restrictions were adopted in 1996 as part of the Children’s Television Act. They became law after activists and child development specialists had registered concern about networks aiming commercialized messages at young children in the absence of official definitions of what constitutes “educational” TV.
In today’s landscape, where YouTube maintains a designated sandbox for kids fare and on-demand and cable services like Netflix and HBO air originals for kids, the old rules simply should not apply, the agency believes.
Under scrutiny are criteria that children’s programming must meet to be considered “core programming,” including whether programming is at least 30 minutes long and regularly scheduled. Also up for review is the three-hour-per-week processing guideline used in determining compliance with the children’s programming rules. If those rules are loosened, broadcasters could be able to satisfy government requirements that they produce appropriate children’s far by “relying in part on special sponsorship efforts and/or special non-broadcast efforts.”
In arguing for the revamp, the FCC cited “dramatic changes” in the video programming marketplace since 1996. “For example, live TV viewing has declined as more consumers watch video programming using DVRs and video on demand,” an FCC press release noted. “There is also now a vast array of children’s programming available from non-broadcast outlets such as cable networks, over-the-top providers, and internet sites, as well as a proliferation of educational children’s content from non-commercial broadcast stations.”
The National Association of Broadcasting applauded the move. In a statement, the group said its members “remain committed to delivering educational programming to kids. But given the seismic changes in how children consume media, it makes perfect sense for the commission to take a fresh look at these regulations.”
A letter in opposition to the rules changes was filed with the FCC on June 29. Among its signatories are Jenny Radesky, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the Center for Digital Democracy and Common Sense Media. The filing notes that sweeping changes could put some families at a disadvantage. “Children of color and those whose families are of limited means will especially be harmed by adopting these tentative conclusions, because they are less able to afford cable, satellite, or broadband,” Radesky said in the filing.
Radesky also took issue with the loosening of the 30-minute requirement, saying that her research has shown that children have an easier time comprehending and learning from half-hour stories than they do short-form content. That position is supported by decades of research that informed the creation of shows like Blue’s Clues, which supplanted the fragmented, “magazine” format of the original Sesame Street with a more immersive, half-hour, single story.